Utah GOP Central Committee will once again attempt to punish signature-gathering candidates

The fight continues among Utah Republican Party bosses over how to punish candidates who take the SB54-allowed signature-gathering route to the state’s primary ballot.

In an upcoming Aug. 18 meeting of the 180-member GOP State Central Committee, several bylaw changes are proposed that, taken together, would prescribe – maybe even mandate – that in future elections any state GOP candidate – like U.S. Senate or House, or governor or attorney general, or legislative – those who took the caucus/delegate/convention route to the primary ballot to get special treatment.

In fact, convention candidates ONLY would be considered the real Republican candidates.

And on the ballot, their names would be listed first and under the designation “Party Endorsed.”

Currently, ballot position is decided by lot – with various studies showing that in a crowded field, being listed first or towards the top of the ballot helps in voters picking candidates.

If in effect in 2017, U.S. Rep. John Curtis’ name would not carry the “Party Endorsed” label, while his opponent (who he creamed in the primary), Chris Herrod, would have the “Party Endorsed” next to his ballot name.

Technically, the bylaw change – proposed by former party vicechair Phill Wright, the unofficial leader of the anti-SB54 elements (the Gang of 51) inside the state party’s Central Committee – removes requirements of neutrality by party bosses before a candidate is picked by registered Republican Party rank-and-file primary voters.

Unclear is whether a signature-gathering candidate could even receive internal party help – like voter lists, or delegate lists, or even party campaign donations.

In any case, this latest proposal is clearly aimed at harming the candidacies of SB54 signature-gathering GOP candidates, with the attempt to force all Republican candidates to take at least the dual route – convention and signatures – if not the convention route only.

Various court rulings against the GOP’s lawsuits over SB54 – now going on four years – have declared that the State of Utah controls the primary ballot, which taxpayers fund.

Part of one federal court ruling recognizes that the party has control over its own membership.

And that has encouraged Wright et al. to further their attempts to limit party membership to people/candidates who follow party rules – including taking ONLY the caucus/delegate/convention route to the party primary.

Even though it was a GOP-controlled Legislature in 2014 which passed SB54 – and signed into law by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert – the party never changed its internal nomination rules to allow for a signature-gathering route.

So, with the party bylaws saying only the caucus/delegate/convention route counts, anti-SB54 advocates say any GOP candidate who takes the signature-gathering route to the primary is violating party rules, thus not a real Republican, and subject to various penalties.

And with these bylaw proposals now coming, the Central Committee could be setting up yet another lawsuit over whether GOP convention-approved candidates can have “Party Endorsed” headings over their names on the primary ballot, and giving ballot preference to convention-only candidates.

Other bylaw change proposals are aimed at hamstringing party chairman Rob Anderson, who has had battle after battle with the Gang of 51 Central Committee members who want him out of the chairmanship, if not out of the party.

One says in Central Committee meetings there can only be stand microphones used – that’s because Anderson has been using pass-around, hand-held microphones because Gang of 51 members crowd around the stand mics, not letting other folks speak.

The anti-SB54 folks did the same thing at the state’s nominating convention this spring – along with using other time-delaying tactics in efforts to push the convention over 10 hours, with many delegates leaving before vital votes were taken.

Also, Anderson and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s official election officer, refused to acknowledge a previous bylaw change that appeared to disenfranchise GOP signature-gathering candidates in two U.S. House districts this year.

That set off the Gang of 51 yet again, and one bylaw proposal says that no GOP state officer will declare any bylaw or bylaw changes as illegal, and thus unenforceable, without a ruling from a state or federal court.

Already this year, bosses in two county Republican parties endorsed or gave greater support to convention-only candidates over candidates who also gathered signatures.

The state party didn’t do that, because of pre-primary neutrality rules that could be wiped away in the Aug. 18 Central Committee meeting.